ERIN, Wis. – Johnny Miller, the golf analyst for NBC, was impressed by Justin Thomas’ 63 in Saturday’s third round of the U.S. Open, especially the 9-under-par aspect to it. Miller shot the first 63 in the Open 44 years ago, and his score was 8-under on a par-71 course.
“Justin Thomas is a lot like I am. He’s a streaky player,’’ Miller told The Golf Channel. “When I was in my prime it was the same way. I could get it really low.’’
As for Thomas having a better score in relation to par, Miller had some qualms.
“Taking nothing away from 9-under-par,’’ he said. “Nine-under is incredible, but it isn’t a U.S. Open course that I’m familiar with, the way it was set up.’’
Erin Hills is 11 years old and hosting its first U.S. Open. Miller shot his 63 at Oakmont, the Pennsylvania course that has hosted a record nine Opens.
STILL AROUND: No doubt Steve Stricker was snubbed by the U.S. Golf Assn. when he didn’t receive a sponsor’s invitation to the first U.S. Open in his home state. Stricker never complained, though, and he’s been rewarded.
Not only did Stricker survive a sectional qualifying round, he also survived the 36-hole cut at Erin Hills. He’s been greeted with standing ovations throughout his rounds and feels his decision to enter qualifying – despite his stature in the game — was well worth it.
“I wanted to experience our first U.S. Open (in Wisconsin) more than anything,’’ he said. “I’m glad I went through it, and I’m glad I’m here.’’
Stricker made the cut in 18 of his 20 U.S. Open appearances, but this was the first one since he turned 50. Next week he’ll play in the American Family Insurance Championship, a PGA Champions Tour event that tees off on Friday at University Ridge in Madison, Wis. Stricker, who lives in Madison, is the two-year old tournament’s host.
“Next week is for totally different purposes,’’ he said. “It’s about raising money for our foundation and giving back to our area and our community. That’s a totally different feel for me. This (week) is more on a playing level.’’
HOW TIMES CHANGE: Last week Stephan Jaeger was en route to winning his second Web.com Tour event in a three-week stretch in the Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe Club. On Saturday he was not only paired with two-time major champion Jordan Spieth in the U.S. Open, he beat him.
Jaeger shot 74 to hit the 54-hole stop at 2-over-par and in a tie for 51st place. Spieth shot 76 and is tied for 59th entering today’s final round.
Spieth stayed upbeat.
“I’ve been striking the ball well. It’s just been trying to figure it out on and around the greens. Once the cannon gets open I’ll start pouring them in.’’
TALE OF FOURSOMES: The U.S.. Open had four co-leaders entering Saturday’s round – Brian Harman, Brooks Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey. It was the first time since 1974 at Winged Foot that four players were tied for the lead. Then the foursome was Hale Irwin, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Raymond Floyd.
GOOD DAY FOR THE JDC: Zach Johnson and Harman are both Georgia neighbors and recent winners of the John Deere Classic, the only annual PGA Tour event in Illinois. Both have also played well in this U.S. Open. Harman, in fact, is leading through 54 holes and in position to become the tourney’s first left-handed champion today.
For Johnson Saturday’s 68 was particularly good news because his play hasn’t been what he’s wanted it to be.
“Probably the best my game’s been all year,’’ said Johnson. “From a contentment standpoint this is the best I’ve felt with my golf bag all the way through.’’
Johnson switched to PXG clubs and that didn’t produce good results initially.
“I probably didn’t listen to them enough in the beginning,’’ said Johnson. “My stubbornness, my arrogance got in the way. But those individuals at PXG have really pushed me and persuaded me in the right direction over the last eight-nine months.’’
TO THE VICTOR: The champion of this year’s Open will receive $2,160,000 and the runner-up will get $1,296,000. The 66th, and last-place, finisher will receive $22,729 from a total purse of $12,000,000. All professionals who missed Friday’s 36-hole curt will receive $10,000.